My Favorite Bearcats Basketball Games
I finally graduated. In my time as a student at The University of Cincinnati, I watched a lot of basketball. In four and a half years, the Bearcats amassed a record of 106–42. That’s 148 games, of which I probably watched 140. I attended somewhere around 60 or 65 games in the student section. Again, I watched a lot of basketball. Here are the games I’ll remember most.
1. Bearcats 71, #2 Syracuse 68 (3/9/2012)
This one was magical, and is a no-brainer as my favorite Bearcats basketball moment. It’s the current high-water mark of the Cronin era. The Orange were 31–1 and ranked #2 in the country behind Anthony Davis’ Kentucky Wildcats. Center Fab Melo did not play in their only regular season loss and was ruled academically ineligible for the 2012 NCAA Tournament, where Cuse lost in the Elite 8 without their star. The Bearcats were the only team to beat them at full strength.
Under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, a sellout crowd, and a prime time ESPN broadcast, the Bearcats blazed out to 25–8 lead on the backs of Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick, who banged home five of their first six three-point attempts. Syracuse made a run late, but an exclamation point dunk by Justin Jackson sealed it, and Cincinnati was able to push past the #2 team in America without having ever trailed.
The box score is hilarious. Syracuse, for all their hype, only managed two players in double figures. The first was Melo (with 11), and the second was bench player (and future #4 NBA Draft pick) Dion Waiters (with 28). On the flip side, Mick Cronin played essentially six players. The five starters averaged over 36 minutes apiece and Jackson played just 16 minutes off the bench. Regardless of what Cronin is able to accomplish in the rest of his Cincinnati tenure, winning this game with that kind of rotation will be written somewhere under his name in the UC history books, especially when you consider what happened the previous night.
2. 6-seed Bearcats 62, 3-seed Florida State 56 (3/18/2012)
Mr. Reliable (Kilpatrick) played 37 of 40 minutes and scored 18 points on 4–6 shooting from outside. With 1:40 remaining, Yancy Gates knotted the score at 50 with a free throw. Before the Seminoles could get the ball past half court, Dion Dixon snatched a lazy pass before pogo-sticking for a ferocious two-handed slam to put Cincinnati ahead for good. The dunk remains my favorite singular moment as a Bearcats fan.
The 10 PM tipoff meant me nearly putting my head through my basement ceiling some time around midnight, trying to scream without waking anyone.
The Bearcats earned their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2001.
3. 8-seed Cincinnati 66, 9-seed Purdue 65 (OT) (3/19/2015)
This game had it all. The Bearcats had managed to fall short in most close games prior and every close game since. Something was on our side that night, as Troy Caupain’s buzzer beater swirled around the rim and fell, sending the game to overtime where heroic plays by Coreontae DeBerry helped seal the win.
I watched this game from a hotel room in Venice, Italy. With the time difference, tipoff was after 1 AM. By the time the final horn sounded after overtime, it was 3:45 AM. Worth it.
The victory set up a game with 1-seed Kentucky, who were 35–0 and being discussed as perhaps the best team in the history of college basketball. I watched that one in Florence. The Bearcats managed to play neck-and-neck with the Wildcats in the first half before being overwhelmed in the second. Still an impressive performance.
4. Bearcats 72, #13 Georgetown 70 (2OT) (3/8/2012)
Ranked as a Top 25 recruit out of high school, hometown kid Yancy Gates was always the type to flirt with greatness rather than seize it. The talent was obvious, but it only translated to on-court success in brief flashes. Something happened towards the end of his senior season and things started to click. This game was the unquestionable peak of Yancy Gates in red and black.
The Bearcats, powered by Gates and his 23 points and eight rebounds in 46 minutes, closed a late 11-point deficit, allowing Cashmere Wright to knock down a floater in the lane with six seconds left in the second overtime period to win it.
The game was a 12-round slugfest, with the winner earning the right to limp back onto the court the following night and face an elite Syracuse team. The win felt like the end of the road in the Big East Tournament, with an insurmountable game less than 24 hours away. Little did we know.
5. #15 Bearcats 97, #20 Memphis 84 (3/6/2014)
If you had to pick an era in recent history to be a student at UC, aside from the Kenyon Martin era and maybe the Nick Van Exel era, there isn’t a better period than the Sean Kilpatrick era. I was fortunate enough to watch the last three years of his tenure in Clifton as he routinely made the big shots, carried the team in big games, and clawed his way to First Team All-American status.
His final game at Fifth Third Arena was perhaps the most special. The Tigers, despite a Top 20 ranking, never stood a chance in Clifton that night. SK seemed to be scoring at will, dropping in 34 points. Fellow senior Titus Rubles chipped in a career-best 24 points, and Justin Jackson added 13 points and nine rebounds. The 2014 senior class was one of the best in program history, and this game was their showcase. A sellout crowd of 13,176 fans showed up for a basketball game and a party broke out. The win never felt in danger. It felt like an exhibition to say goodbye to three beloved Bearcats.
6. #13 Bearcats 69, #12 Louisville 66 (1/30/2014)
By 2014, I had already seen a lot of what I wanted to see as a college basketball fan. A little tournament run, a conference championship game, a win over an elite team on a national stage, a buzzer beater at home, etc. Elusive on that imaginary checklist was a win at rival Louisville. We came into the game having not won in Louisville since New Years Day 2008. The Cardinals were coming off a national championship and had an impenetrable aura about them at the time. Winning on the road seemed impossible.
Sean Kilpatrick and the Bearcats came out and punched them in the mouth. The Cincinnati offense in the first half was essentially all dunks and three-pointers. The first half highlights still make me feel like I could run through a brick wall.
When the comfortable lead we enjoyed all night morphed into a slugfest in the final nine minutes, a sinking feeling came over everyone in red and black. Shooting your way past a good team is one thing, but grinding one out in the sellout arena of the defending national champions is another. Kilpatrick threw the team on his back, finishing a perfect 11-for-11 at the free throw line, and the ‘Cats escaped.
I watched this one at Buffalo Wild Wings on Calhoun, and the place was a madhouse. We hollered and cheered and screamed Down The Drive all night. After the win, hell broke loose and I climbed on top of my chair to celebrate. I hugged a stranger who was standing on top of his table.
The victory helped propel UC to #7 in the country. The Cardinals got the last laugh three weeks later, as SK’s fellow All-American Russ Smith canned a buzzer beater 15 feet from my seat in the final matchup between the two rivals before Louisville left for the ACC. I won’t make a heartbreak list, but that’s easily #1.
7. #17 Bearcats 58, Alabama 56 (12/1/2012)
Being on the losing end of essentially every single buzzer-beater (football or basketball) is enough to drive a man absolutely insane. It’s also enough to drive him to put an early-December win over an NIT-bound Crimson Tide team in the Top 10.
I don’t care that this game was nearly inconsequential in the scope of the season. I don’t care that we should’ve cruised to a double-digit victory. The Bearcats hit a buzzer-beater and the other team didn’t. Cashmere Wright dribbled towards the low post, threw up a fade away over 7-footer Moussa Gueye, the buzzer sounded, and the ball fell through. The crowd exploded, the building shook, and I fell over. A lot of students fell over. We hung out in the arena after the game to watch the football team win another conference championship in what would become the final game of the Butch Jones era and the final game of the Big East era.
If you’re bored, search YouTube for this shot. There are four or five pretty cool fan angles.
8. Xavier 59, Bearcats 57 (2/18/2015)
Here’s one of the buzzer beaters I mentioned. Or rather, a buzzer beater that wasn’t. The Beracats got a good look at a game-winner, but it clanked. It was hard to put a loss on this list, but I couldn’t think of a very good reason this shouldn’t be here. From an experiential standpoint, this is probably the pinnacle of my tenure as a UC student. This one made me think, “This is what college sports are all about. This is what being a UC student means.”
As far as entertainment and sportsmanship goes, it’s what the rivalry is all about. The game returned to a true home court setting for the first time since the infamous brawl, and it paid dividends. The two prior editions of the game felt hopelessly neutered, but this was pure, unadulterated madness. It takes something special for me to leave the arena after a heartbreaking loss to a bitter rival and feel okay. This game was that kind of special.
The game also spawned one of my favorite articles about the Bearcats, courtesy of Mark Titus.
9. Bearcats 60, #17 Louisville 56 (2/23/2012)
After early setbacks in the form of a monumental loss to Presbyterian and an ugly brawl with Xavier, the Bearcats were firing on all cylinders by late February. The poor Cardinals were simply the next team in the way. Cashmere Wright reeled off 22 points, stuck six three-pointers, and pushed the ‘Cats to victory.
I remember this one being particularly raucous. It was a 9 PM tip-off on ESPN, the building was easily sold out, and plenty of Louisville fans had made the trek. Aside from the two who managed to snag seats in front of me in the student section, there was a Cardinals fan in the next section over who thought it would be a good idea (as an opposing fan) to throw a half-full cup of beer at somebody. Within seconds, the entire section pointed directly at him, and he was whisked away.
It was Louisville freshman Chane Behanan’s first time back to his hometown of Cincinnati since he spurned his commitment to the Bearcats in favor of the Cardinals. Clifton didn’t offer the warmest of welcomes, chanting “CIN-CY HATES YOU” during free throws, posterizing him, and eventually winning the game in upset fashion. Afterwards, I seem to recall Behanan making some type of comment about “owning” the city of Cincinnati. It was the icing on the cake.
10. Bearcats 70, #13 UConn 67 (1/18/2012)
This was early in conference play during my freshman year, making this the first time I got a true sense of who Sean Kilpatrick was. With the Bearcats leading by three points, Shabazz Napier nailed an absurd three-pointer with fewer than 10 seconds remaining. The hometown crowd erupted. Rather than call a timeout, Cronin put the ball in the hands of the sophomore, who casually jogged up the floor and hit the dagger with two and a half seconds left. Crowd silenced. Game over. It was a huge upset on the road for the Bearcats, who suddenly found themselves at 5–1 in the Big East, trailing only #1 Syracuse.
Napier and Kilpatrick would wind up being fellow First Team All-Americans two years later. This is where their history began.
11. #11 Bearcats 60, Xavier 45 (12/19/2012)
The Bearcats played fairly poorly and still canned Xavier, who finished 17–14 and failed to make the NIT. This was not nearly as exciting as it should’ve been. The Crosstown Shootout games at US Bank Arena were awful.
12. Bearcats 76, NC State 60 (12/30/2014)
The Bearcats were just 8–3 (coming off a debilitating 2OT loss to Nebraska and a thrashing at home from VCU), and were absolutely reeling from the loss of Cronin. A road game against a solid NC State team was something I wanted no part of. Instead they exploded, cruising to a 16-point win that wasn’t even as close as it looks on paper.
13. Bearcats 106, Robert Morris 44 (11/15/2015)
Robert Morris was coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, but facing what looked to be a long season after losing some key players. The Bearcats played this game like a scrimmage, leading by 67 at one point. Cronin wasn’t even sure how to handle it, eventually resorting to full line changes. He swapped out the entire lineup a few times late in the game, but the lead grew and grew. The exclamation mark was a ludicrous windmill by Shaq Thomas to push the ‘Cats to the century mark.
This also happened to be the 100th Bearcats victory in my time as a student.
14. Bearcats 44, Pittsburgh 43 (12/17/2013)
After the Big East splintered, nearly every school UC shared some kind of rivalry with was gone. Fortunately, the 2013 Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden pitted the Bearcats against the Panthers in what proved to be a classic Big East rock fight. It was the most beautiful kind of ugly, and a Rubles putback with four seconds left proved to be the difference.
15. #7 Bearcats 63, #22 UConn 58 (2/6/2014)
Sean Kilpatrick unloaded 26 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists as the Bearcats earned a comeback victory over UConn, who would finish the season as national champions.